The $9,000 bottle of wine

Sunset's Sara Schneider takes us into the crazy world of California's cult Cabernets. Are they that much better than a BevMo splurge?

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SUNSET'S  PICKS FOR BEST OF SHOW

They don't call these wines "cult" for nothing. Except for the Opus One, all of these particular vintages are sold out at the wineries, and some, such as Colgin and Screaming Eagle, are notoriously difficult to find in any corner of the wine market. If you want to splurge on a coveted label, try the wine list at your favorite high-end restaurant, or scope out the market at Wine-searcher.com. (Our estimates of these bottles' current worth came from Jason Alexander at Vintrust.)

But if your pockets aren't Grand Canyon-deep, don't despair. A couple of our top picks from Parker's tasting can be had for ready money right now, proving that not all great wine requires years of waiting.

Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Napa Valley). Elegant fruit, with touches of minerals and soy on the nose, gives way to a gorgeous floral palate, layered with blackberries and licorice.
 Price at release: $195 (sold out)
 What it's worth now: $350
 Wait list? Yes. The winery tries to limit the wait to one to three years, closing the list to newcomers if it seems as though the wait might be longer.

Caymus "Special Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley). Generous oak houses loam and soy aromas, followed by soft, cedary, spicy dark fruit, with hefty tannins underneath.
 Price at release: $136 (sold out at the winery; may be available at high-end retailers)
 What it's worth now: $160
 Wait list? No

Colgin "IX Estate" 2004 (Napa Valley). A stunner ― silky, elegant, and clean, with deep mocha, dark berries, and cassis flavors.
 Price at release: $250 (sold out)
 What it's worth now: $400 ― and hard to find
 Wait list? Yes, estimated to be three to five years. (There are 3,000 people in line ahead of you.)

Opus One 2004 (Napa Valley). After an earthy, dark, and beautiful nose (Bordeaux-like) full of berries, cedar, and tobacco smoke, the flavors on the palate build slowly and last long, in perfect balance with the nose ― bright and silky at once.
 Price at release: $180 (current release)
 What it's worth now: $180
 Wait list? No

Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Oakville). Pure cassis and a whole forest of cedar; intense and balanced.
 Price at release: $500 (sold out)
 What it's worth now: $1,600 ― if you can find it
 Wait list? Oh, yes. The wait to purchase this wine is infamous. Six years? Eight years? Every enophile has a story.

Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa Valley). Lean and well structured but approachable. A classic dark and brooding Cab, with blackberries and cocoa.
 Price at release: $78 (technically sold-out; may be available at high-end retailers or the winery, though)
 What it's worth now: $95
 Wait list? No

AND CULTS TO COME

In his bellwether role, Alexander advises keeping an eye on these promising Napa Valley Cabs.

Ghost Block The "ghosts" honored on the label are pioneer winemakers who rest in peace in a tiny 150-year-old cemetery near the Rock Cairn Vineyard this wine is from. The family who makes the wine has harvested that vineyard for at least 100 years. $55.

Maybach Family If you visit this winery's website to find out about its sole offering ― the Materium Cabernet, first released in 2007 for $110 ― you'll see this: "Dear Friends of the Winery, Thank you for your interest in the Maybach wines. The launch of our 2004 'Materium' Cabernet Sauvignon was a success and we are currently sold out. Our 2005 Vintage has been bottled and we anticipate a Spring 2008 release." $110.

Scarecrow Bret Lopez, formerly a professional photographer, has come home to make wine on his grandfather J.J. Cohn's old Rutherford estate, where he played as a child. $150.

Tierra Roja Vineyard & Winery This wine comes from the reddish hills east of Oakville ― starting point for many of the Napa cults. $105.

-Sara Schneider with Elizabeth Jardina

THE COMPLETE GREYSTONE CALIFORNIA CULT LINEUP (in alphabetical order)

Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Napa Valley)
 Beringer "Private Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (Napa Valley)
 Caymus "Special Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Colgin "IX Estate" 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Dominus 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Howell Mountain)
 Harlan 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Hundred Acre Kayli Morgan Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Joseph Phelps "Insignia" 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Kapcsándy Family State Lane Vineyard 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Opus One 2004 (Napa Valley)
 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Oakville)
 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Oakville)
 Seavey Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa Valley)
 Shafer "Hillside Select" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Stags Leap District, Napa Valley)
 Sloan 2003 (Rutherford)
 Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (St. Helena)

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